Posted August 28, 2013

Matt Harvey likely out for the year, could be headed for Tommy John surgery

Matt Harvey, New York Mets
Matt Harvey started the All-Star Game for the National League in July.

Matt Harvey started the All-Star Game for the National League in July. (Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

Mets ace Matt Harvey has a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow according to an MRI taken Monday morning. He thus will likely be shut down for the remainder of the season, and is at risk of needing Tommy John surgery. In making that announcement at a press conference at Citi Field on Monday afternoon, New York general manager Sandy Alderson wouldn’t commit to putting Harvey on the disabled list, but he did admit that he “wouldn’t expect him to pitch the rest of the season.”

Harvey admitted during the press conference to feeling tightness in his forearm for the last month or two, but said that it wasn’t until his last start Saturday (a 3-0 loss to the Tigers) that he felt something “alarming.” Harvey visited Dr. David Altcheck at the Hospital for Special Surgery on Monday morning and an MRI revealed his torn UCL. Because the tear is a partial one, Harvey and the Mets retain hope that he will be able to avoid surgery. Alderson said that an upcoming MRI, taken after some of the swelling in Harvey’s arm goes down, could help the team make a decision on surgery. But he also said that that decision could be as far as two months away.

This news comes as a shock not only to those outside the franchise, but also to Alderson, manager Terry Collins and Harvey himself, who said he didn’t feel any of the typical signs related to a ligament tear — no shooting pain or tingling, no pop or other sensation — only a tightness in “the muscle belly” of his forearm, which became significantly worse during his last start.

Indeed, there were no red flags in Harvey’s performance nor in his workload this season. While Collins said he noticed that “something was wrong” in Harvey’s start against Detroit on Saturday — due to a lack of fastball command and a couple of hanging sliders in the early innings — the pitcher nevertheless walked none, turned in his sixth quality start in his last seven games and threw a 97 mph fastball in the sixth inning. Over Harvey’s last seven starts, he posted a 2.05 ERA, walked just three and threw his first career shutout.

In terms of workload, Harvey went from 135 2/3 innings in 2011 to 169 1/3 between the majors and minors in 2012, a reasonable 33 2/3 inning increase. He has thrown just 178 1/3 innings this season, on pace for what Alderson revealed today was an intended innings limit of around 210. Harvey threw just 106 pitches in his shutout (a 5-0 win over the Rockies on Aug. 7), and though he did reach 121 pitches twice earlier in the season, he never surpassed that total.

One can’t point the finger at the Mets for Harvey’s injury. They have handled him perfectly, giving him preventive treatments on his forearm all season, skipping his last start before the All-Star Game and, based on Collins’ observations of Saturday’s start (which the manager initially attributed to fatigue), had planned to skip Harvey’s next start this week.

One hopes that New York will handle what comes next for Harvey equally well. Certainly the temptation to avoid surgery will be great, but if Harvey does need to go under the knife, he’s better off doing it now so that he can come back at full strength in 2015. If he puts it off, he would likely lose part of each of the next two seasons.

The best comparison for Harvey, in terms of getting surgery out of the way quickly, is the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg, who was diagnosed with a “significant tear” of his UCL at exactly this point in the season in 2010 (his last start that season was Aug. 21). Strasburg had surgery in early September, returned to the majors for five starts at the end of ’11 and was an All-Star in ’12.

The contrasting cautionary tale is that of the Dodgers’ Chad Billingsley, who was diagnosed with a partial UCL tear after his Aug. 24 start last season and opted for a course of rest, rehabilitation, and platelet-rich plasma injections over the offseason. Billingsley was able to make just two starts this season before going under the knife at the end of April. As a result, he won’t be ready to return until after Opening Day next year and will do so without having that extra off-season of rest and rehabilitation.

Every pitcher, and every partial tear, is different, of course, but given Billingsley’s case — as well as those of the Braves’ Jonny Venters, and the Orioles’ Dylan Bundy, both of whom tried and failed to recover from partial UCL tears without going under the knife — surgery seems inevitable for Harvey, even if there has been at least one study that suggests otherwise.

If so, Harvey will be 26 the next time he starts a regular season game in the major leagues, which would be a shame not only for the Mets, whose burgeoning youth movement was finally giving their fans a glimmer of hope, but also for baseball fans of all stripes as Harvey had emerged this season as one of the best pitchers and brightest stars in the game.

14 comments
GoBlue_1985
GoBlue_1985

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JohnStevens
JohnStevens

Non-surgical treatments never work.  Harvey and the Mets need to get the operation over with a hope for the best over the long-term.  Perhaps promising young pitchers need to Tommy John surgery before their career begins.  

MichaelC
MichaelC

Sucks. With Harvey, the Mets were TRYING to baby him - pitch count limit (maxed out 121 twice during the season), innings limit, and he feels a little forearm tightness ... which still reveals a blown up elbow. I know baseball brain-trusts will freak out and use Harvey as yet another cautionary story to preserve young arms (same with Strasburg) but they're really powerless. You have a guy like Kershaw who's already pitched 1142 MLB innings vs. Strasburg (407) and Harvey (238) and Kershaw's actually a couple months younger than Strasburg and only a year older than Harvey. Injuries can be cumulative or instantaneous ... really a coin-flip for any pitcher. Hindsight is 20/20 but if the Mets had shut down Harvey at 150 IP, would that have made any difference?

Frank14
Frank14

of course u can never blame the mets or the manager when a pitcher (who threw more than 120 pitches twice) when the arm blows--see OP.

OrlandoBravesFan
OrlandoBravesFan

Sorry to hear. He's a good one and a classy guy. I hope he returns full strength for you guys. We've had a bunch of those and Beachy is back on DL. Part of baseball we all hate.

The_Sports_Dude
The_Sports_Dude

Do the surgery now and get the recovery rolling.  Chad Billingsley also had a partial tear in his UCL and tried PRP treatment only to get hurt again and end up getting the surgery, which completely wasted this season.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

@JohnStevens Surgery before injury?  A list could be made that is a mile long of successful pitchers who had long careers without ever coming close to needing this surgery.   Cutting on a healthy body because you are guessing that the guy might have an injury someday?   Where do you people come up with this stuff?  You were probably leading cheers when Angelina Jolie got her cans lopped off because of the chance that she might one day get cancer.  Absurd.

MarkMcClure
MarkMcClure

@William27 @MarkMcClure #1, it takes the force AWAY from the injured tissue. #2  The muscles are contracting at 500 X per second NEUROLOGICALLY flushing blood to the injured area which ACCELERATES the healing process. Thus, we take the player through ACTIVE movement with blood flow and the force is now ON THE INNER BICEP and OUTER TRICEP and away from the injured area. We have treated 5 Tommy John cases this last 6 months....ALL successfully.

MarkMcClure
MarkMcClure

We almost ALWAYS find that it is the long head of the bicep tendon that has come out of the groove of the inner bicep and when this occurs, this force is transferred to the shoulder and elbow region. This also causes scar tissue which does not allow the muscle to turn on fast enough to avoid force. We go in with the ARP Wave and proprietary protocols, treat the NEUROLOGICAL origin....NOT the sympton, get that muscle absorbing force again and when this occurs, the force if OFF the UCL, immense blood flow to the tear and ligament, accelerating the healing and surgery avoided